The goal is to complete client projects on-time. Time is money, so since before they are started successful client projects have scope, budget and timeline accurately set. As a consultant, managing your time on both micro (day-to-day) and macro (month-to-month) levels is crucial to achieving the annual compensation you’re aiming for. Losing a week here and there can feel like the “cost of doing business” as a consultant, but on a macro scale, this time lost is costing you much more than you think.
Why is the cost of doing business more than you think?
Let’s say you lose a week on each project of your projects and with an average project length of 4 weeks. If you take 4 weeks of vacation a year you should be able to fit in 12 projects in each year. However, if each project takes 5 weeks instead of 4, you only get 9.5 projects in per year. At $10k/project (middle-of-the-road estimate), you’re losing $25k in a year! Holy smokes, Batman!
All of a sudden the “cost of doing business” as a consultant feels like an enormous black hole in your pocket.
So the question is, why do projects always seem to take the proverbial extra week?
One common complaint consultants have about clients is that they demand aggressive timelines yet are not responsive themselves when asked for feedback. Another common complaint is that clients require many rounds of iteration on features with little value added on each round (classic tail chasing). These complaints are often not unwarranted. But think about it this way: your job description is to be a consultant and their job description probably isn’t “be a client”. So you need to be the one helping your clients be better participants in your consulting projects and give them the direction that will lead them to successful, on-time projects.
Here are a few things to consider when leading your client to help you stop losing a week on each project:
1. You have a process, but do you explain it?
You think of yourself as a well oiled machine. Your client may be hiring you because you’ve done a hundred of these projects before. This doesn’t mean that your client understands what your process is though, nor how they fit into it. Being explicit about their role in the process and progress of the project is critical to keeping your client on track.
2. Do you summarize status and instructions in written form for future reference?
You may be great at explaining the status of a project over the phone or in person. Clients may hang up the phone with you and be completely over the moon with the progress you’ve made on the project. But then your client goes back to their day-to-day and forgets those 3 to-dos you asked them to completed. They probably weren’t taking notes, the thought you were. You need to explicitly reiterate/summarize your spoken conversation via email or other form. This doesn’t mean meetings are worthless, but it does mean that phone and in-person meetings don’t suffice for client management.
3. You give clients to-dos, but did you explain how to complete them?
You told the client to sign-up for a GoDaddy account and send you developer credentials to make DNS record changes. Huh? They have no idea what you just said and need serious hand-holding with explicit, dummy-proof instructions! They’re not dummies, but don’t take for granted what’s simple for you, because it’s likely not simple to clients (if it was simple they wouldn’t hire you!).
If you consistently have a one week timeline run-over on client projects then you have a major problem. You’re losing money on fixed-price projects, you annoy your next client who was expecting you to start sooner, and you can’t fit as many projects into a year. There are no winners when this is happen.
However, just because your clients seem to slow down your process doesn’t mean it’s all your client’s fault. By giving your clients specific instructions when you need them complete something, by following up consistently via email to recap conversations, and by explicitly and continually explaining the process for how the project is going to be completed, you can chop off that run-over time and save yourself a boat-load of cash and headache.
In other words, help your client help you.